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Sunday, October 05, 2008

One Wales u-turn?

Glyn Davies got quite excited last night about the contents of this morning's News of the World, urging us all to go out and buy it because it contains 'a really juicy story' about Welsh politics. Well I did not buy it but I did look on-line and sure enough there was the story Glyn was alluding too, though whether it lives up to its billing is doubtful.

If we are to believe the piece health chiefs are set to pull the plug on free prescriptions in Wales, because they are too expensive. Apparently, the policy has cost far more than the anticipated £30 million. We are also told that doctors have been dishing out prescriptions for normal over-the-counter products such as vaseline, milk of magnesia and aspirin, whilst thousands of English people have also taken advantage of the scheme by registering with Welsh doctors.

Well, yes, all of these issues have been highlighted by both the Welsh Liberal Democrats and the Tories for some time and yet the One Wales Government have shown no inclination towards scrapping the scheme. Instead, they have dug their heels in and are more determined than ever to see it through. Despite this Glyn Davies is prepared to accept the story at face value, and why shouldn't he? After all its author is Jamie Lyons, a journalist who was once based in the Welsh Assembly, reporting on devolved matters.

So what is the source of the story and what is their motivation in putting it out into the public domain in this way? Read on:

The crisis will spark fears in Scotland and Northern Ireland over their own plans to scrap charges.

Scotland is phasing them out by 2011, and Northern Ireland last week announced it would cut charges before abolishing them in 2010.

That would leave England as the only part of the UK where patients would still have to pay.

A senior Whitehall source said: “In Wales they are running out of money for this and can’t continue.

“They are going to have to pull the plug on it. It’s the last thing anyone wants to do but the financial realities are so serious that they’re having to consider it.”

The story has originated from a 'senior Whitehall source'!

Now, I would not dream of telling an experience journalist how to write his stories, but surely he was just a tiny bit suspicious that he was being briefed on this story in Whitehall, when all the policy and administrative responsibility lies in Cardiff Bay and when the Health Minister has a reputation for telling the Westminster Government where to stick their interfering ways.

Surely, he spotted the concern that if Scotland and Northern Ireland follow suit then England will be left out on a limb and that UK Ministers will be under enormous pressure to introduce free prescriptions in the Home Counties as well. Perhaps he has also noted the past attacks on Welsh Government health policies coming from UK Health Minister, Ben Bradshaw, who presumably has a similar agenda.

I am no fan of free prescriptions, believing that they offer unnecessary perks for the wealthy and that they have put the Welsh budget under some pressure along with all the other giveaways, but I am not advocating getting rid of the policy now that it is in place. Any changes will need to emerge from evidence-based reviews.

The real story here is not the so-called threat to free prescriptions but the growing rift between Labour in Westminster and Welsh Labour over the devolved policy agenda. Instead of UK Ministers making divisive statements, we now have off-the-record Whitehall briefings with the objective of undermining Rhodri Morgan's Government. It is not just the Tories who are divided over the impact of devolution, but Labour as well.
For a moment there Peter I was wondering if you were implying that Labour-Plaid (LP) can't even get free-prescriptions right.

I'm sure you're wrong - LP are so great, they could command the tides of the sea to go back. I hear King Canute is a great fan of the 'One Wales Government'. Likewise the Icelandic government.
Peter, I too use the question mark in the post heading - and include the words 'if it turns out to be true'. It would be such a stunning climbdown by the Gobvernemnt, that it is a bit hard to believe. But I always found Jamie Lyons to be a good journalist when he was working for PA in the Assembly, so I considered it to be a significant article.
Free Prescriptions for all was always a stupid idea.

There was absolutely no need for it as well, as it was always more or less means tested if I remember correctly? As in, the elderly didn't pay, nor did students, or the unemployed?

I see absolutely no problem with that approach, and can't for the life of me work out why it was changed?

If they do want to stick with it however, they need to impose some serious conditions, such as it not applying to over the counter medicines, and not applying to those who's primary residence isn't in Wales.

It's the same with this "Free Car Parking at welsh hospitals nonsense". It will just create a free for all and cause problems and congestion.

Off the point further (sorry Peter), but I was proud of Cardiff's Liberal Democrat council for imposing a universal parking charge of £5 a day in the city. It eased the traffic, and at any time of the day there was always spaces available. They reduced it to £3 a day for everyone after mounting complaints, and now there is free for all where Cardiff is more congested as a result, and unless you get there by 8.30am you have about as much chance of getting a space as winning the lottery!

Rant over! Sorry!
Free Prescriptions were part of the original vision of the National Health Service, and I am glad that it has been brough back in Wales. The principle of free healthcare should extend to prescription drugs, as no-one should have to pay to be ill. I had the misfortune of being seriously ill for quiet a few months and free prescriptions did make a lot of difference to me.

As for the news story, the Welsh Assembly government has confirmed it to be crap, and the senior whitehall figure is probably just some jumped up civil servent or junior minister trying to make themselves sound big.
Shouldn't it be a EWE turn?

The idea of prescription charges was to stop people going to their GPs surgery and asking for a precription for tampons and asprins, when such items could be bought easily without a script from most chemists and other shops not having a medical connections.

As someone who's worked in a LHB, I am well aware that people are looking to get sanitary napkins on free prescription, ditto over the counter pain killers.

Free prescriptions is just a gimick, like the winter fuel allowance, how many people are living in Fuel Poverty in Wales? Don't know, neither do I since that Mickey Mouse outfit which couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery.
@anonymous 7.20

There are a lot of things that can be considered an ideal, but are totally and utterly impractical in the real world.

I agree that free prescriptions for all would be great, but it's unaffordable and wasteful in the short term, and utterly unsustainable in the long tem.

Just why should governments take money from elsewhere, borrow it if necessary, so that people who can afford the £6 fee should not have to pay it?

Free prescriptions in wales should be limited to people who actually live in wales, to things you can't get over the counter, and free to all that can't pay. That way the cost is lower, and the help it provides is being targetted to those who need it most.
Free prescriptions should be for those who are on benifits and/or for those with a long term condition which would involve taking medication for a long time!

Quite interestingly, most medications are relatively cheap; which surprises me - Take

Methotrexate: 2.5mg x 28 = £3.27

Votarol: 2.5mg x 84 = £5.71
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